Boycott of the Imperial Duma

Boycott of the Imperial Duma


the refusal to participate in elections to the Duma; tactical slogan of the Bolsheviks, who called for an active political boycott of the so-called Bulygin Duma (1905) and the First Imperial Duma (1906).

In Lenin’s words, the convocation of the Bulygin Duma was constitutional bait, “a palliative to delay the revolution.” The boycott of the Imperial Duma was aimed at foiling this plan to strangle the revolution. “The slogan of the boycott of the Bulygin Duma was a slogan of the struggle for the path of direct revolutionary struggle and against the path of constitutional monarchy” (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 16, p. 6).

In implementing the boycott of the Imperial Duma, the Bolsheviks set the tasks of “discrediting this government scheme,” “preventing the very implementation of this political comedy,” and promoting mass agitation for an armed uprising and the formation of a provisional revolutionary government. The boycott of the Imperial Duma was made necessary by revolutionary enthusiasm in the country. An active boycott was “a natural complement to the electrically charged atmosphere. This slogan did not ’invent’ anything at that time; it merely formulated precisely and truthfully the enthusiasm that was going on and on toward a direct offensive” (ibid., p. 12). The slogan of an active boycott was supported by almost the whole social democracy of Russia. The boycott was also the policy of the Socialist Revolutionaries and the Union of the Unions—the left wing of bourgeois liberalism. Only the Mensheviks were against this slogan. The active boycott of the Bulygin Duma justified itself. The autocracy never succeeded in holding the elections. The Duma was swept away by the revolution. The boycott had a great influence on the formation of the revolutionary consciousness of the masses, and “in live, concrete form it gave the masses a proletarian appraisal of the Duma as an institution that is powerless to solve the fundamental questions of the revolution” (ibid., vol. 14, p. 68).

The Bolsheviks continued the boycott tactics during the elections to the First Duma. However, the political situation had changed, and the revolutionary movement was on the decline. The continuation of the boycott of the Imperial Duma could no longer yield the same results as during the upsurge of the revolution. It proved impossible to thwart the elections to the Duma. Under these conditions, the boycott of the Imperial Duma was, as Lenin said, “a mistake, but a small one that is easy to correct” (ibid., vol. 41, p. 18).

The Bolsheviks participated in the Second Imperial Duma. They went there to use the Duma as a platform for agitation. The Duma opened additional opportunities for a rapprochement with the revolutionary peasantry against the Cadets and the autocracy. During the elections to the Third Duma, when a small opportunistic group of otzovisty (recallers) proposed returning to the boycott tactics, Lenin opposed them because under these conditions, the boycott would not strengthen the movement, but weaken the power of agitation.

Subsequently (1920) evaluating the tactics of the boycott of the Imperial Duma, Lenin wrote:”The Bolshevik boycott of the ’parliament’ in 1905 enriched the revolutionary proletariat with an extremely valuable political experience. It showed that at a time when legal and illegal, and parliamentary and extraparliamentary forms of struggle are combined, it is sometimes useful and even mandatory to reject parliamentary forms. But the blind, imitative, and uncritical transfer of this experience to other conditions and another situation is a very great mistake.” The Bolsheviks could not have consolidated and strengthened the revolutionary party of the proletariat if “they had not defended in a very hard struggle the obligation to unite illegal with legal forms of struggle” (ibid., pp. 18, 19).


KPSS ν rezoliutsiiakh i resheniiakh s “ezdov, konferentsii i plenumov TsK, 7th ed., part 1. Moscow, 1954.
Istoriia KPSS, vol. 2. Moscow, 1966.